Harry Hsu, We’ve Got Company?, C2
Aliens. We have been hearing about them for decades, no matter in movies like Man in Black, or acclaimed by someone saying that they personally met them. But neither did we really confirm their existence on this planet, nor we have a confirmed video of the alien spacecraft flying high up in the sky. Do alien species actually exist? Do they have the technology to travel through the remote distances in the universe? Were they really kind friends and would not harm us? I am as well perplexed, and hereby please allow me to share with you some interesting facts and analysis.
Fifty years ago, a radio astronomer, Dr. Frank Drake once proposed an equation, called the ‘Drake equation’, and it estimates the number of alien civilizations that we can communicate with in our galaxy. The equation contains a series of multiplication of probabilities. First of all, we need the star formation. Some of these stars would have planets, and others would not. Some of the planets could support life while others could not. Some of the life go into civilizations, and others do not. Some civilizations could send radio signals out, and others could not. Some civilizations last long while others do not. The remaining ones are the answer.
This number of contactable alien civilizations is estimated to fall between 2 to 280 million. That is a huge range, right? That also means we may either be alone in the galaxy, or there are plenty of friends, and we are just not aiming our radar to the right direction. No one knows which one is right, until one day we finally receive an alien signal. Or, until the day we are visited.
What do you think about the reports about witnessing aliens on Earth? According to NASA, most potentially habitable planets are several thousands of lightyears away. If you were light, it still takes you thousands of years to travel. In the film Star Trek, they have described a kind of hypothetical space craft that can travel faster than light, called the ‘warp engine’. Scientists have been skeptic about this engine because Albert Einstein had said that nothing exceeds the speed of light. Well, it is true, but the warp engine is still not proven impossible. What Einstein said was that mass cannot move faster than the light, however the space, can do whatever it wants to: it can expand and contract at any speed.
To simply illustrate that, what is the closest point between these two points on the paper? Yeah, connecting two points with a straight line is a naive idea, but in reality (bends the paper), if we fold the paper, the closest distance between these points is zero. In other words, the warp engine ‘warps’ the space, shaping the space that the space craft equivalently moves faster than light.
However, the space is very stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy, and these energy, if to be generated with conventional fuel, will be way too massive for current spacecrafts to carry.
If you have read the book Angels and Demons before, you must have heard of the term ‘antimatter’. It is an unusual matter that is extremely costly to produce, and this matter, when coming in touch with usual matter, will annihilate and simultaneously generate a huge amount of energy according to Einstein’s renowned formula, E equals M C squared. Storing energy with matter and antimatter is unimaginably efficient, say, the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated is only equal two kilograms of mass. Well, on the other hand, if we want to travel with warp engine for a lightyear, we still need around 100 kilograms of mass.
The problem is, it is really too expensive. Currently, some antimatter is produced in the laboratory at a price of 60 trillion USD per gram, so it is obviously unaffordable and impractical for these warp engines to be true, at least for the next century.
I never doubt that warp engine is impossible for humans, and I actually suspect that alien civilizations might already have developed these kind of technology. What I am curious about is, why haven’t we met any of them? Interestingly, in Star Trek, there is a Prime Directive, and this code states that those ‘young’ civilizations should not be disturbed by advanced ones. So maybe there are already an alliance out there, deep in the universe.
Is it we humans searching in the universe, or the universe is conversely searching for us? We will never know the truth, until the day we really find out.
Evaluated by Joey Chen